Why Aren’t You Living in a Trailer?

Calling all millennials. Calling all millennials. Why aren’t you living in trailer parks?

I know this is a rather bizarre question to direct towards our beloved millennials, but hear me out. I did a quick Craigslist search of cheap rentals in my area, and, by far, the cheapest options were trailers. Pictured below is one of the dozen or so rentals that were listed for under $500 per month. It’s not luxury living by any means, but it’s not hideous either. And it strikes me as a rather attractive housing option for a young person starting out.

trailerforrent

Worst Case Scenario

Let’s suppose for a moment that you’re a millennial. You recently graduated high school and you’re working full-time in a warehouse making $10 an hour. Let’s further suppose that your best friend is in a similar position financially. He or she has a high-school diploma and has a full-time job paying $10 an hour. Is it possible for both of you to move out of your parents’ homes and still manage to save $500 a month each?

Well, if you and your friend move into the above trailer, it certainly is. Let’s look at the numbers.

IncomeSourceAnnuallyMonthly
Full-time job - $10/hour$20,800$1,733.33
Total Income$20,800$1,733.33
ExpensesItemAnnuallyMonthly
Payroll Taxes$1,591.20$132.60
Federal Taxes$1,111.25$92.60
State Taxes$603.75$50.31
Health Insurance Premiums ($225/month subsidy)$900.00$75.00
HSA Contributions$900.00$75.00
Rent (Water, Sewer, and Lawn Maintenance Included)$2,700.00$225.00
Fun/Miscellaneous Expenses$2,400.00$200.00
Food$2,400.00$200.00
Electricity$738.00$61.50
Cell Phone$552.00$46.00
Internet$420.00$35.00
Cable$300.00$25.00
Total Expenses$14,616.20$1,218.02
Amount Left for Saving/Investing$6,173.80$514.48

According to my calculations, someone working full-time at $10 per hour will earn $20,800 for the year. To live in the above trailer and cover all of your annual expenses—including a little beer money—you’ll need $14,616.20. This will leave you with $514.48 per month to save or invest.

So it can be done. But there’s one important caveat. You can’t own a car. Own a car and that $500 per month saving potential is out the window. The cost of insurance, maintenance, repairs, and gas will be too dear. You’ll be lucky to save $100 per month.

A Better Case Scenario

Now let’s consider some more rosy scenarios. What if you got a better job and were making $14 per hour? What if you got a side-hustle that brought in an extra $500 per month after taxes? What if you got a bachelor’s degree and were making $43K per year, the median salary for a recent college graduate? You would certainly be able to save more than $500 per month if you lived in the above trailer with an employed buddy. In fact, with just a little moxie, it wouldn’t be too difficult to up your savings rate to $1,000 per month. Heck, you’ll even be able to ditch the bicycle and get a car.

If you’re a millennial, and you’d rather not live in your parents’ basement or under the nearest overpass, your most affordable housing option out there is the much maligned trailer. And it would be foolish not to take advantage of it. We’re talking rents of $200-$250 per month (assuming you have a trailer-mate). Are you freakin’ kidding me? What a great opportunity to get out of debt, save for a house, or stuff money into your Roth IRA.

Overcoming Your Ego

Look, I get why the typical millennial shudders at the thought of residing in a trailer park. I certainly didn’t want to live in a trailer when I was young. But that was largely because I was an ignorant snob. When I thought of a trailer park, the image that came to my mind was a trailer park like the one depicted in the below video.

But not all trailer parks are nasty. I realized this once I moved down to North Carolina and I actually saw trailer parks. Some are very nice. It all depends on who is occupying the trailer park. If the people living there are emotionally, socially, and financially damaged, the place will be scary. If the people living there are thriving emotionally, socially, and financially, the place will be one of the coolest communities around. Take a look at the video below. Millionaire CEO of Zappos, Tony Hsieh, lives in a trailer. How freakin’ cool is that!

Final Thoughts

Young people can make anything hip. When I was young, we made the Doors hip. The generation that came after mine made Tony Bennett hip. Heck, young people a few years ago turned a mundane beer from Milwaukee into an iconic cultural statement. So why can’t they change the image of the lowly trailer park—make it the default housing option of the up-and-coming rather than the last refuge of the down-and-out?

Okay, groovy millennials, what do you think? Are you up for trailer-park chic? Or would you rather remain in your parents’ basement and bemoan the lack of high-paying jobs?

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40 Comments

  1. Love this post! My aunt lives in a trailer park in NC and it is fine. You are totally right about who lives there, their experiences and the way they go about life. We bought a condo in Florida (for less than many trailers – hard to believe) for a vacation house but we did look at them too. Certainly the communities made a difference. Trailer parks in my community have a terrible reputation – but in a community down the road, they are much better. Looking forward to the millennial take on this!

    • Mr. Groovy

      Oh that’s great Vicki. Brother Groovy lives in a trailer in the Raleigh area and it’s very nice. By the way, where is your aunt?

      I hear you about the price of condos in Florida. My parents have one in West Palm and it cost under $20K. And it’s very nice. Thanks for stopping by, Vicki. It’s always nice hearing from you.

  2. Gail Poyner

    Millennial here! I think this is a great post. Affordable housing is big concern for many people, and there is no shame in saving money while making it on your own! Not only does it cut down on living expenses, but can also make you rethink purchases that would normally take up a lot of space in a home. Thanks for posting!

    • Mr. Groovy

      Welcome, Gail. We love millennials! You nailed it. Limited square footage keeps a lid on excessive materialism. Thanks for stopping by.

  3. It is unfortunate that the word trailer is often associated with trash. Or connotations of empty six packs in the nearby truck that is owned by the heavily tattooed single guy who like to ramp up his music and noise at all hours of the day. Media driven, yes. Some of it real in many communities across our country, yes also.

    I think the essence of the point you are making is to look for property, either bought or rented, that is way below your means. And there is the fundamental problem in why people can’t even get started saving. They buy the cute townhouse or colonial and complain about the mortgage payment and / or high interest and they need to hire a landscaper to mow the lawn, trim the overgrown bushes. The list goes on.

    That conscious first step to understand what living below your means TRULY means is the hardest to conquer but one of the most important pieces of advice that will allow you to create the wealth / lifestyle you truly desire.

    • Mr. Groovy

      Hey Mr. Pie – I couldn’t agree more. Part of my goal in this post is to undo the media distortion about trailer park living. It’s the people that make a community, not the housing. You remove the beer swilling tattoo guys and replace them with frugal go-getters, and suddenly it’s a fantastic neighborhood.

      I love the way you summed up the fundamental problem which is that people just can’t live below their means, and that keeps them from saving. Trailer parks can turn this around. Thanks for your comments.

  4. A lot of my fellow millennials are drawn towards the re-branded name of trailers; “tiny houses”, the connotation of trailer parks is really not fantastic but I don’t think it’ll be long until we see communities of “tiny houses” clumped together on communal land just like trailer parks – as soon as you re-brand something it suddenly becomes all shiney again.

    The connotation of trailer parks is a really big factor.. but that snobby attitude towards house/lifestyle is also because we all grow up in our parents house – usually said parents have lived through 40 years (or so) of pay rises, experience, career development.. and lifestyle inflation.. We are creatures of habit, we don’t want to give up the nice modern kitchen and leafy neighbour-hood that our parents forked a butt-load out for.

    Although trailers aren’t really a thing in Australia.. we have made a conscious decision to live in an older house – we have bright orange bench tops in our kitchen straight from the 1970s (our carpet is also orange) but it’s cosy, homely and we have plenty of space in a fantastic location easy for Tristan’s train commute.

    Each generation needs to learn that their parents started from the bottom and worked their way up – and we have to as well, learning a thing or two about how expensive lifestyle inflation is and minimizing it as much as possible would benefit everyone, cos really, our 1970s kitchen works just as well as a 2016 one and saves a bucket load of cash.

    • Mr. Groovy

      Good point. One’s environment shapes their attitude. Not only are millennials getting it from their parents’ home, they’re getting it from college as well. When I went to college the dorms were very basic. One notch above military barracks. Colleges today are like vacation resorts. And the kids get accustomed to that lifestyle. The only problem is the salary they’re getting does not support that lifestyle.

      I’d love to see a photo of those orange bench tops and the orange carpet. Please pass them along when you get a chance my friend. Cheers.

  5. I remember when I was in highschool I kept telling my parents, “Look man, I can get a brand new single wide trailer for ~$20k! You know how cheap that is?” I acted as if I’d just stumbled onto some big secret. I could buy some land, put it on there and live for WAY less than they bought our house which took 30 years to pay off.

    Even with us being a poor struggling family, there response was akin to what Mr. PIE pointed out, “Why would you want to live in a trailer, you’re better than that.”
    Ugh, yep, they went there. BUT, the main thing was that I realized I could live somewhere nice and below my means. Ultimately, I never bought that trailer, but I don’t feel that I’m “above” buying or living in one if need be.

    Like you pointed out, young people can make anything hip, especially even tinier trailers that have been dubbed “tiny homes”, Yes people, those are still trailers (if they have wheels), just hipper, more chic, more accepted versions of trailers.

    • Mr. Groovy

      You were wise beyond your years, Mr. SSC. I too fell into that snob trap. It set me back years. When Mrs. Groovy and I pass a small trailer park on the way to Walmart I look at those quaint trailers and see opportunity.

      And I hear you about the tiny homes. I love them too but they’re still trailers. Hey, but if it helps change attitudes, I’m jiggy with it.

  6. Look who is leading the tiny house movement. Millennials, no?

    I wouldn’t want to live in such close quarters permanently, but I have seen some really nice trailer parks.

    I should totally write a post about how long I lived at home. Huh. Let’s see if wifi holds out.

    • Mr. Groovy

      Good point about the tiny house movement. It’s definitely being spurred by millennials. Let’s hope the movement spreads. By the way, Mrs. Groovy agrees with you about close quarters. But she’d rather live in a trailer than in an apartment sharing walls with other people.

      Looking forward to that post, Penny.

  7. My college days were pre-Craigslist and when not everyone had internet, so the mega-apartment complexes were the easiest. Now, though, these are a great option, especially to not have to share walls with neighbors.
    If utilities aren’t included and the trailer is old, it might be wise to check with the utility company to get an idea of expected costs before signing the lease.

    • Mr. Groovy

      Great points, Julie. Mrs Groovy’s wall-sharing days are over. She grew up in apartments and wants no part of them now. Great advice about checking with the utility company. I never considered that, but to make an informed decision you should know what you’re getting into.

      I like the way your mind works. Thanks for sharing.

  8. Though there are fewer of them in the area all the time, Silicon Valley has a number of trailer parks ranging from squalid to decent. I often wonder why they’re not more sought-after by my fellow engineers. When we sell our condo in the next year or two, a trailer in a decent community is a strong contender to bridge the 1-2 year gap between that time and when we FIRE. Nice post!

    • Mr. Groovy

      You would think with all those brilliant minds in Silicon Valley they’d come up with a cheap and aesthetically pleasing way to house their employees. Too bad it’s so hit and miss with the trailer parks in that area.

      Yeah a trailer would certainly fill that gap before you FIRE! Best of luck with that. And thanks for your kind words, FV. Always love hearing from you.

  9. Mr. Groovy – great post! Housing & Transport are the two killers. Keep your spending on these two major items in line with your income, and you’ve solved 80%+ of your financial stresses! Thanks for making us all think – it’s a great suggestion for those just getting started, or struggling with low incomes!

    • Mr. Groovy

      Thanks, Fritz. I’m glad you agree. The latte factor is pithy but the real meat and potatoes of personal finance is housing and transportation. Win those battles and you’ll win the war.

      Thanks again. I always like getting your feedback.

  10. I grew up in a trailer. It wasn’t the nicest, but it was perfectly fine. And certainly not that different from a lot of el cheapo apartments I’ve seen.

    Save the money, and rent cheap. But don’t buy one — space rent can go crazy. My in-laws had it hiked up to $600 a month at the end. And it wasn’t like they could afford to move the sucker.

    • Mr. Groovy

      Yeah we’ve seen our share of cheapo apartments in New York. Ever seen a bathtub/shower in a kitchen? My buddy from college had that in his first apartment in Brooklyn. It’s hard to visualize but it’s true. And it sounds like a Seinfeld episode where you’re waiting to see Kramer wash his lettuce while he’s showering.

      And I hear you about the trailer park owners jacking up the space costs. They know people can’t afford to move their trailers. Sorry to hear your in-laws had to deal with that. Not fun.

  11. Good question!

    We like the idea of being landlords in the future to supplement our income needs after semi-retirement (we already have one rental property). I have mentioned to Mr. Smith that we should buy a trailer or two to rent – so much cheaper than a house and they can be really nice. His concern is with the long-term value of the trailer in comparison with a house.

    But, I don’t see any reason why millennials shouldn’t take advantage of this housing option.

    • Mr. Groovy

      Mrs Groovy always talks about investing in trailers. She thinks it’s a wonderful idea. But the money won’t be made on resale. It will be made on the cash flow. For us it would be another income stream in retirement.

      And yes, we would encourage millennials to consider the trailer park option. It really makes sense. Thanks for pointing out that trailers don’t appreciate like homes do. People should be aware of that.

  12. My problems with trailers are the lack of safety. I’ve lived for too long in tornado country. I have close relatives who live in them, and have no snob problem with them. I just want a foundation, and to be harder to break into since I am a woman. This is a big part of why I don’t want to live in a SFH. There is safety in numbers – especially the number and quality of doors in between you and the bad guys.

    • Mr. Groovy

      Excellent point, ZJ. It does seem that tornadoes have a fondness for trailer parks. Why is that? So security is definitely a problem with trailers. They don’t do well with natural malevolence, and I don’t know how well they hold up against human malevolence. Their doors look like they’re real easy to pry open. Here’s some bias for you. I’d have no qualms about any of my nephews living in a trailer park. I would, however, feel pretty uneasy if either of my nieces lived alone or with a girlfriend in a trailer park. Thanks for reminding us that safety is a important variable when it comes to housing. It isn’t only about cost.

  13. I like the thought, but I can tell you why I’ve never lived in a trailer (on top of their major branding issue): location. Maybe it’s different elsewhere, but around our region, I don’t know of any trailer parks in walkable urban neighborhoods where it would be easy to take public transit or walk/bike to work. If I were making $10/hour, maybe the calculus would change a bit — but I’d rather pay more for a location that lets me cut my transit expenses.

    • Mr. Groovy

      I hear ya, Matt. Excellent point. When I was growing up on Long Island there was a small trailer park in the town of Syosset and it was within walking distance of a train station. Where I live in North Carolina there’s a really small trailer park (maybe five trailers) that’s within walking distance of a bus stop in the Charlotte mass-transit system. So it is feasible to find trailer parks that are relatively friendly to the car-challenged. My brother, however, lives in a trailer park that isn’t close to employment hubs or mass-transit. You’d be in trouble if you lived there without a car.

    • Mr. Groovy

      Wasn’t that a great quote! Wouldn’t it be great if more people looked at Tony Hsieh and said to themselves, “If a trailer isn’t beneath him, it certainly isn’t beneath me.” Thanks for pointing out that kernel of wisdom, Amber Tree. Appreciate it.

  14. We love our trailer! We could go on and on about all the benefits, but you’ve captured our favorite reason why. We purchased the small house (aka manufactured home) in 2015 and we’ll be mortgage free this year. We’re all in on trailers and MHP!

    • Mr. Groovy

      I LOVE YOUR HOUSE! What you and Garrett are doing is a true inspiration. In fact, Mrs. Groovy and I refer to you guys as, “the power couple.” Thanks for stopping by, Claudia. It’s always great hearing from you.

      • You guys are the best. Sorry I haven’t been commenting as much. We wanted to get our second course launched, which consumed nearly all of our time the last two months.

        We’re planning to do a video tour of the small house. Maybe that’ll help advance the cause! 😀

        • Mr. Groovy

          No worries, Claudia. Take care of business first. Please, please do a video! I’d love to see it and I think it would be an excellent contribution to the cause. Give my regards to Garrett.

  15. We know of several people who live in trailers. My husband has strictly forbidden it. He loves me, but I don’t think he wants to be that close to me ALL the time 😉

    I can’t even use the kids as an excuse, as one of my friends lives in a tiny travel trailer with her husband and their 4 children. FOUR. CHILDREN.

    I think my mom and her fiance are going to move into a trailer on a nice piece of land in the mountains. For them, the land is what really matters, more so than the house.

    • Mr. Groovy

      Difficult issue. Everybody has unique space requirements. When Mrs. Groovy and I were first married we lived in a 600 SF condo and it was rough. But when we moved down to Charlotte and bought a 950 SF condo, we were in heaven. A mere 350 SF made all the difference in the world. I can’t imagine how your friends can happily occupy a tiny travel trailer with FOUR CHILDREN. Your friends must be saints. And I love what your mom and her fiance are considering. A nice trailer on a nice piece of land in the mountains sounds like heaven to me. Thanks for sharing, Pia. It’s always great hearing from you.

  16. Queenie

    I bought a mobile home in a55+ park when I turned 56. 60 now and still work. It is rare amongst parks as you own the lot in this park. Much better since the space rent does not go up. It is very nice here; I call it a retirement village as I still have a problem with the stigma of “mobile home park”. It is a nice area of So.Cal. where house prices are outrageous. We do have an HOA. Fees cover the heated pool and spa;clubhouse;trash;water and greenbelt areas. I am very happy to live in an affordable,”resort” style locale.

    • Mr. Groovy

      Hey, Queenie. That’s awesome. I’m so glad to hear that you own the lot as well. Space rent can definitely be used by management to abuse mobile home owners. And I hear ya about the stigma. My brother moved down from New York and bought a trailer. Even though it’s very nice, he still hasn’t invited my parents over to see it. He thinks they’ll be aghast. Thanks for stopping by. It’s always great hearing from trailer…er, mobile-home fans. Cheers.

  17. Or you could live in Omaha, Ne where rent for a basic apartment is $550 (with a garage) in a safe, middle-class town.

    That’s what my current rent is but since I split it with my roommate so its half of that. Decent apartments are around $500-900/month here in Omaha.

    The super-nice ones are around $1000+, but that is pretty much if you want to live in a loft in downtown Omaha or another hipster-like area.

    I own a car but mine is a 2003 Honda, and I keep it in shape and there’s no payment plan on it. I just pay for maintenance costs which aren’t that often, gas, insurance is roughly around $330/year.

    Also due to geography, I can afford to eat out on the weekends & do other fun things, but COL (cost of living) is generally affordable so you’re not spending crazy amounts of money on fun things.

    I think it depends what you want from life. The Zappos CEO has different priorities and I think he’s very brave because usually people of his status have pressure to “keep up appearances” and live a certain lifestyle that people expect from his stature.

    I think even though the economy isn’t booming many of us still have the mentality that a home is still the classic “American Dream” and many people want a home. I definitely do.

    It’s hard to fight against this because it’s often the ideal in our society that’s been passed down from generation to generation at least in the U.S., since the 1950’s (at least).

    I grew up in a home and my parents paid off their mortgage and always made the point of saying how a home is worth purchasing, etc.

    My ideal home right now is a $200,000 home and it’s hard to fight against that desire. Although in Omaha you can have a *really* nice home around $180,000-250,000.

    Omaha has a very 1950’s feel to it, I know that sounds kind of weird, but it’s the type of place that’s affordable, older kids and teens walk around without their parents, and a lot of people are still middle-class, people are generally friendly overall.

    Basically Omaha has it all, so I won’t move unless I can get a similar lifestyle elsewhere.

    • Mr. Groovy

      Good point, Jaime. Many parts of the country have reasonable rents in urban areas. When I was going to college in Buffalo in the early 80s, one could rent a four-bedroom apartment for $400/month. So rent my senior year (83-84) was $100/month. Utilities ran another $50-$75. So I could swing a good portion of my living expenses with a part-time, minimum-wage job. Pretty amazing. Thankfully there are still places (i.e., Omaha, NE) where someone earning a modest income can still find decent accommodations at an affordable price.

      I hear ya about home ownership. Mrs. Groovy never owned a house until we got married. And it was always something she wanted. Happily, after living in a house for eight years now, she still feels the same way. Home ownership is a wonderful thing, especially if you like taking on home-improvement projects. The only caveat I have is that homes require maintenance, repairs, and cleaning. And as you age, the appeal of those inescapable chores definitely wanes.

      Thanks for helping our understanding of Omaha, Jaime. Mrs. Groovy and I will be heading your way in 2018.

  18. It seems that a lot of people are already taking your advice, but through a different name – “tiny homes”. It seems to drop the negative connotation of living in a trailer, but offers the same smaller living and reduced cost of rent or mortgage.

    That said, there is a nice trailer park near me. I see nothing wrong with it and nobody there strikes me as being “trailer trash”

    I still think PBR is gross though!

    • Mr. Groovy

      Oh, Debt Hater, my heart weeps! How can you say PBRs are gross!

      I hear ya, my friend. I used to drink that swill when I was in high school. That and Schmidt’s were about a buck a six-pack (warm) back then. And it’s great to know that the “tiny home” movement is getting some traction. Other commenters have mentioned that as well.

      The retirement game has changed dramatically for the millennials. It’s all on them. Pensions are going the way of the dodo bird and Social Security will have a hard time doling out its promised benefits in the future. So millennials really got to take saving for retirement seriously. The more they economize on housing (e.g., tiny homes and trailers), the more they’ll have for Roths and 401(k)s.

      Thanks for stopping by, Debt Hater. I still welcome your opinions–even though you totally dissed the brew that gave sustenance and meaning to my youth.

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